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Blinken said to push Ashkenazi to provide more vaccines to Palestinians

Foreign minister responds that Israel has already sent thousands of doses to West Bank and Gaza and plans to continue to do so; PM says there won’t be any shortage of vaccines

Former Palestinian health minister Jawad al-Tibi receives a shot of the COVID-19 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, in Gaza City, Febuary 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Former Palestinian health minister Jawad al-Tibi receives a shot of the COVID-19 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, in Gaza City, Febuary 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reportedly urged Israel to transfer more coronavirus vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The request was relayed during a Monday phone call with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Israeli officials told Axios.

Pointing to the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are eligible for vaccinations through the Israeli healthcare system, Ashkenazi told Blinken that Israel has vaccinated more Palestinians than anyone else.

Of the 300,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, 76,000 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to senior Clalit official Ali Jabrini. Out of that group, 23,000 have received a second shot as well.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the numbers are far lower. Israel has transferred 10,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine that were donated to the Palestinians by Russia. Eight thousand of those doses went to the West Bank and 2,000 went to the Gaza Strip last week after Israel initially delayed the shipment.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. (Collage/AP)

Israel sent an additional 200 of its own doses that reportedly went to PA leadership, but Ramallah has not commented on those shipments.

Israel also pledged to send 5,000 vaccine doses to Palestinians in the West Bank, 2,000 of which have been delivered and are being distributed. The PA is still waiting on the other 3,000 and there has been no word on when they will arrive.

Earlier Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that it will be sending a shipment of thousands of vaccines to the PA. It did not specify whether those were the remaining 3,000 doses it had already pledged.

On Sunday, a shipment of 20,000 Russian coronavirus vaccine doses donated by the United Arab Emirates arrived in the Gaza Strip via Egypt. The delivery was reportedly arranged by Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled Fatah official who lives in the Emirates. Dahlan, a key rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is rumored to be a close adviser to Abu Dhabi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed.

A shipment of the Russian Sputnik V vaccines allocated for the Palestinian Authority; on February 4, 2021 (courtesy)

By the end of the month, the PA says it is expecting an additional 37,000 doses through the UN’s COVAX program for poor and middle-income countries. Those doses will be enough to vaccinate all Palestinian medical staff. In the coming months, the PA is also expecting to receive between 100,000 and 400,000 doses, also through COVAX ,that will be used to begin vaccinating the rest of the population.

China has also committed to sending a symbolic number of its Sinopharm vaccine doses, though no date has been given for their arrival.

The PA also announced on Friday that after a meeting with Israeli health officials in Ramallah, Israel had agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel. Jerusalem has said it is still reviewing the matter. There are roughly 120,000 such workers, with roughly two-thirds working in Israel proper and the remainder in the settlements.

Axios reported that the PA also asked Israel to transfer an additional 100,000 vaccine doses for the general Palestinian population, but that it did not receive an answer.

Palestinian health officials speculate that it’ll take until the end of 2021 to vaccinate 60%-70% of its citizens.

Asked to comment on the PA’s Friday announcement regarding Palestinian workers, a US State Department spokesman welcomed the news, adding that “it’s important for Palestinians to achieve increased access to COVID vaccines in the weeks ahead.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh opens a hospital for COVID-19 patients in the West Bank city of Nablus. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

In its Tuesday statement, the PMO announced that Israel has been contacted by numerous countries with requests for vaccines.

“Israel doesn’t manufacture the vaccines itself and has informed the countries that the quantities ordered by Israel are designated for the vaccination of its population and there is no expectation that it can significantly help until the vaccination drive in Israel ends,” the statement said.

The PMO added that the stocks of vaccines in the country allow it to transfer a symbolic number of immunizations to Palestinian medical staff and to other countries that have asked Israel for help. The statement did not name the countries or the type of vaccines that will be donated. According to the Kan public broadcaster, a plane from Honduras was set to deliver a shipment of vaccines from Israel later Tuesday, and the Czech Republic and Guatemala are also interested in similar deliveries. The choice of the countries appeared calculated, given that all three have pledged to open diplomatic offices in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Israelis Tuesday that there would be no shortage of vaccines in the country.

He told reporters he had spoken to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday and they had reached an agreement that “there will be a continuous supply of Pfizer vaccines.”

Israel’s vaccination campaign is far ahead of any other country’s worldwide per capita. Some 4.5 million Israelis, roughly 50% of the country’s total population, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Health Ministry data showed Tuesday. Over 3 million Israelis have received both doses.

Netanyahu was personally involved in negotiating deals to secure millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the country, accelerating its inoculation drive. The government aims to vaccinate the entire over-16 population by the end of March.

The reports on Netanyahu’s hopes to use coronavirus vaccines to help diplomatic relations came after Israel was said to have agreed to purchase an unknown number of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine doses for use in Syria, as part of a deal for the return of an Israeli woman who was held by the Syrian regime after she crossed the border two weeks ago.

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